Cervical Cancer Vaccine Shows Promise
Vaccine's Maker Plans to File for FDA Review by Year's End
"It seems like a very important advancement to me, from what I've seen.
There's limited information at this point. [But] it looks very promising,"
"I think it has a good potential," says Lisa Flowers, MD, assistant
professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Emory University's medical
"This is another exciting study which points to the likely availability
of a vaccine for HPV, but it is critical [that] the data be peer-reviewed and
published," states Debbie Saslow, PhD, in a statement emailed to WebMD.
Saslow is the director of breast and gynecological cancers for the American
Cancer Society (ACS).
"If and when the FDA approves the vaccine, federal advisory groups will
decide whether to recommend the vaccine and if so under what conditions (e.g.:
at what age, etc.)," states Saslow.
The Gardasil phase III study participants were more than 12,000 women aged
16-26 years in 13 countries, states Merck's news release.
"In the U.S., most women will have been exposed (through sexual
activity) to HPV by age 23 and many by age 16," states Saslow. "It is
likely that the vaccine will be more effective if given to younger girls,
before the onset of sexual activity, but we have very little data from this age
"While we have high rates of vaccination for infants and young children,
it is more difficult to achieve wide participation in vaccination of older
children and adolescents. This will be further complicated by the need for
three doses," says Saslow.
"Other questions being discussed relate to whether boys should be
vaccinated, and whether young women who have been exposed to HPV, and women in
their 20s and 30s who also have likely been exposed, can get any benefit from
vaccination," she continues.
Obviously, males don't get cervical cancer, since the cervix is part of the
female reproductive system. But men can spread the HPV virus to women through
"Most important will be to ensure that women who are most at risk for
cervical cancer (women who do not get routine screening) receive any vaccine
that is approved and recommended," Saslow continues.
Pap Test Here to Stay
Flowers lists these steps women can take right now:
- Get Pap tests on a regular basis (every year).
- If the Pap test has abnormal results, follow up and get treatment, if
- Use condoms and limit sexual partners, which may help. But only abstinence
is 100% effective against sexually transmitted disease.
- Don't smoke.
Women should "continue on with screening until it's felt by their
physician that screening is no longer necessary, based on their profile,"
A lot of women don't do that.
"In the U.S., at least 80% of adult women get Pap tests; this is a very
effective way to prevent cervical cancer and deaths from cervical cancer,"
"We also know that most women in the U.S. who do get cervical cancer
have either never had a Pap test, or have not had one in five years or more.
Most but not all cervical cancer can be prevented or detected early enough to
prevent lives lost," Saslow continues.